© 2014 MIT Media Lab
Teaches: Programming, logic, creativity, coding, art, math
Tagged for: Coding, STEM
Designed to introduce beginning coding concepts to Kindergarten and early elementary-age children, this long-awaited, free iPad app is a welcome addition to the growing crop of tablet-based early coding experiences, namely Tynker and Hopscotch. But it comes with a learning curve,...
Designed to introduce beginning coding concepts to Kindergarten and early elementary-age children, this long-awaited, free iPad app is a welcome addition to the growing crop of tablet-based early coding experiences, namely Tynker and Hopscotch. But it comes with a learning curve, and it's big brother (Scratch 2.0) is already nearly as easy to learn, while offering far more coding horsepower. It's important to acknowledge that ScratchJr is a different experience than Scratch 2.0, so comparisons must be taken with that in mind. One is tablet based, the other only works on a Flash-enabled computer that is online. Scratch 2.0 stores programs in the cloud, and makes it famously simple to copy and paste (a.k.a. "steal") snips of programs from other programmers. ScratchJr is a closed (safe) system that stores projects locally in your iPad's memory. You start with a cat (a Sprite) on a small screen. Below are six sets of color coded commands, each represented by a puzzle piece. To make your cat move you touch the "forward" command in the programming area, and give it a tap. You can also touch the traditional green flag if you like. Presto -- your cat moves one step. It is easy to add or take away additional commands or sprites, and a paint editor lets you paint a mustache onto your cat. There are commands for adding dialog boxes, comic-book-style storytelling and recording sounds. Adding a second page (or stage) to your project is also easy, although you're limited to no more than four stages per program. It is also possible to use your camera, in case you want to replace your cat's head with your own face, however, turning on the camera is a multi-step process, so be prepared to offer some coaching the first few times. After you've learned the nuances of the camera and are comfortable with the basic programming moves, the real power of ScratchJr starts to sink in. Explore the repeat command, the ability to resize sprites, as well as the ability to take pictures to make sprites and backgrounds more personal. Much of the complexity you'll encounter with ScratchJr is related to the way the six color coded block categories are presented. Until you understand that a single block (on the left) actually stands for a cluster of commands (on the right) a lot of what ScratchJr offers will be out of reach of the beginning child. It's too bad there's not an "absolute beginner" mode that starts with just the movement commands. WISH LIST ITEMS: ScratchJr is a good start. Here are some features we'd like to see in version 2.0: • a free drawing mode for the backgrounds, and smoother camera use. • a smoother (multi-touch) way to pull commands apart. • integration with Scratch, so that a class using both Scratch 2.0 and ScratchJr can share projects on a local, lab-based level. • multi-touch, with pinch/pull resizing of sprites. • stories that are longer than four pages/stages. • the ability to share projects, perhaps as movies in the photo album. • Make the camera react instantly when you touch the camera icon. • a more obvious way to change between stages. • an "absolute beginner mode" mission with challenges that give meaning to the commands. • sound and tilt triggers to make a sprites move. Once you figure out ScratchJr you'll learn that it has a lot of potential despite failing to use some of the iPad's features. It is worth the download, and it achieves it's mission to introduce some big ideas about coding. Just be ready to offer some support in the early stages, to do thing like erasing sprites and backgrounds by holding down their finger for a few seconds, and point out the all-important "undo" and "redo" functions. Also helpful... the printed rollover label. We tested Scratch on both the iPad and iPad Mini, both worked fine. Scratch Jr was designed by a team composed of the MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergartner, the Tufts University DevTech research group and the PICO company.It is published by the MIT Media Lab. See also Scratch 2.0.